Review Summary: So let it be written, so let it be done.
Where is the dividing line between a great metal album and a magnum opus?
Every once in a while, you’ll hear a great metal album, one that makes your head bob or one that gets stuck in your head. You might give it a 4/5, a 4.5/5, or even a 5/5. You might go to your friends or onto online blogging sites and recommend the album, then they would hear it and do the same to more people. Only a few times, however, will you be able to listen to a magnum opus for the first time in your life. When the album first starts and your mind is left to the imagination on what note or beat will come next, there is a magical quality that you never forget. It’s that moment when you realize that what you are listening to has changed the music industry for a good purpose and your life may follow in suit.
To be honest, I’m not quite sure which song off of Ride The Lightning first came to my attention as a student at Mitchell Intermediate in The Woodlands, Texas, but I’d firmly say “Fight Fire With Fire” is the song that got me into the album, it being the second song I ever bought off of iTunes. The acoustic intro begins like the calm before the storm, so beautiful and yet so misleading for the immense thrashing that is just beyond the horizon. The soft guitars stop, the sound of distortion slowly revs in from the background…BAM! Some of the fastest riffage on the planet, too much for my 5th grader mind to handle. The chorus starts, James Hetfield roaring “FIGHT FIYAH WITH FIYAR!...WE ALL SHALL DIE!” followed by Kirk Hammett ripping his guitar to pieces like an atom bomb ripping apart a defenseless country. It’s the best thing I’ve ever heard.
And it’s just the intro track.
Despite the unbelievably fast opener, a good way to describe this album would be to call it “Kill ‘Em All with far better sound quality and more complex riffing.” Out goes most of the insane speed and in comes slower and heavier riffs that bring in a lot of thunder. While the slowest of Kill ‘Em All was limited to about 20 seconds of clean guitar on “Phantom Lord” and the first chunk of the epic bass solo “Pulling Teeth,” Ride The Lightning’s main foundation is based on chuggier and more bass-driven slow riffs, as seen on the main riff to the title track or “For Whom The Bell Tolls”. The latter of which doesn’t even resemble a thrash song at all but more of a doom metal track, with slow, gloomy riffs that still somehow capture all of the energy and kickass-ness of Kill ‘Em All. Just about every song besides the opener features at least one or two moderately paced riffs, which was fairly unusual to the still young thrash scene. Despite this rather stark contrast in speed, Metallica manages to somehow turn the awesomeness up to 11 above their previous record.
Kirk Hammett continues to show his explosive ability to shred like a monster, but, like the rest of the instruments, Hammett displays less shredding for the sake of being fast as hell and more shredding for the sake of being a truly great lead guitarist. The title track might have one of the greatest solos in history; it sounds so soothing and magical, yet so destructive and shreddy. Less emphasis is spent on being a guitar badass and more emphasis is leaned on the melodic structure of an emotion guitar solo. Almost every solo on this album is mesmerizing to the point of it inspiring you to actually pick up a guitar and shred alongside the blaring songs over the radio in your bedroom. I know that’s what it did for me.
The most important aspect about the album is the songs. Simply put, there isn’t a single bad track on this thing. Some could argue that “Trapped Under Ice” and “Escape” are needless filler and should be skipped, but I’d disagree, especially with the entrancing attitude of “Trapped Under Ice." “Fade To Black” features acoustic guitars for the entire first half of the song, which must have been absolutely bizarre in the middle of a scene built around speed and distorted heaviness, but the decision to use clean guitars to emphasize the mood of remorse is a dazzling one that proved to cause far more good than harm. Everything about the song must be praised; the chord progression is absolutely spellbinding, the lyrics bring you oh so close to home, and Kirk's end solo seals the deal of this six minute bundle of beauty. The title track, like much of the album, is just utterly amazing. The intro riff gives an immediate feeling of dread as Lars Ulrich thunders his snare kit, and then that monstrous main riff lumbers in like a giant with a carnivorous agenda. Topped off with one of history’s best solos and some fantastic lyrics, the title track might just be the best title track on any album ever. “Creeping Death” continues to validate the ability of Metallica’s highly skilled musicians and even more skilled songwriters with its powerful intro riff and a seriously catchy chorus that’ll take days to get out of your head upon first listen. The album ends with its smartest note yet, the legendary instrumental “The Call Of Ktulu” which is just as inspiring and brilliant as the HP Lovecraft story it’s based on. Hell, ‘inspiring’ and ‘brilliant’ are two words that could describe every final decision made on Ride The Lightning. Some may say Megadeth is the better band, and while saying they have no great albums would be a colossal lie, nothing they've done has quite topped the majestic heavy wonder that Metallica did in 1984 through my eyes.
And there you have it. Ride The Lightning. You know it, you've heard it, time marches on.